Activity 2: Islands Facing Change


Poised near the eastern edge of the Greater Antilles between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico lies in the track of tropical storms and hurricanes that move westward across the warm waters of the equatorial Atlantic toward the North American mainland.

Since the mid-20th century the larger towns of Puerto Rico have been targets of rural-to-urban migration as people turn away from agriculture to the promise of a better life in urban areas. This process has resulted in a redistribution and concentration of the population in coastal towns. It has also resulted in a heightened storm risk for the people of Puerto Rico.

Map of Puerto Rico

Materials Needed

Note: Students may find it helpful to refer to thematic maps in a comprehensive atlas as they work through this activity.


How Has the Distribution of Population in Puerto Rico Changed?

  1. Have students read brief human geography descriptions of Puerto Rico:
  2. Have students examine the maps of population distribution by municipality in Puerto Rico for 1970 and 1990 (Handout 1). Although differences are subtle, what trends can be observed?
  3. Next have students observe the maps in Handout 2. The first map of this pair reveals those municipalities to which more people have moved in the five years preceding Census 2000. The second map shows net migration for each municipality.
    • Which areas are experiencing the greatest growth?
    • What characterizes those municipalities that experienced a net loss?
    • Why are the larger cities experiencing a net loss in population?
    • What is happening in the adjacent municipalities?

    Why Do People Move to Urban Areas?

    1. Discuss "push and pull" factors that may have contributed to changing patterns of population distribution in Puerto Rico. Based on your understanding of factors influencing Florida's changing population distribution from Activity One in this lesson, compare and contrast push and pull factors in Puerto Rico and Florida.

    What Natural Hazards Place the People of the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, at Risk?

    1. Have students review the article "In Harm's Way" (PRB) [or read the article if they did not complete Activity One: Living on the Edge].
      • According to the article, what factors contribute to the heightened vulnerability of islands to natural hazards?
      • Why do major urban areas tend to be more hazardous than rural areas?
      • In what ways have human activities exacerbated the effects of natural hazards? What measures could people take to lessen the impacts of a tropical storm (short-term and long-term)?
      • How does poverty increase the risks associated with natural hazards?
      1. Direct students to the Caribbean Hurricane Network website at
        Give them a few minutes to survey the site; then have them scroll down to the list of islands to find the stations representing storm activity affecting Puerto Rico. Divide the class into four groups, assigning each group one of the four sites in Puerto Rico.
        • Describe the frequency with which Puerto Rico has been struck by tropical storms/hurricanes?
        • How often have major (Category 3-5) storms hit the island?
        • Which month is most vulnerable to tropical storm/hurricane activity?

        What Are Some Human Consequences When Tropical Storms/Hurricanes Strike Puerto Rico?

        1. To answer the questions below, have students read the following articles and search online for at least one additional resource. Have students share with the class or in writing the resource they found, along with one or two pieces of information from that resource, related to the questions below.
          • "Georges Pummels Caribbean, Florida Keys, and U.S. Gulf Coast" (NOAA—National Climatic Data Center)
          • U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change—Educational Resources—Regional Paper: U.S.-Affiliated Islands of the Pacific and Caribbean
            • What environmental losses occurred?
            • What losses to human property occurred?
            • What are some lasting economic consequences when tropical storms/hurricanes pass over or near the island?
            • What are some lasting environmental consequences when tropical storms/hurricanes pass over or near the island?